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Centre for Critical Heritage Studies

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Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Sefryn Penrose)

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Heritage and wellbeing

“Directly or indirectly, well-being, in some shape or other...is the subject of every thought, and object of every action, on the part of every known Being...nor can any intelligible reason be given for desiring that it should be otherwise." 

– Jeremy Bentham, Chrestomathia (1817)

The core agenda of this cluster is to critically explore the connectivities between heritage and wellbeing.  We address from various perspectives the key question of: ‘what constitutes wellbeing’ and more specifically we ask; how heritage is called upon to make sense of what constitutes wellbeing and in turn how wellbeing is called upon to make sense of what constitutes heritage. 

We are interested in pursuing the longstanding associations between heritage and wellbeing. From grand narrative articulations of heritage as a ‘redemptive formula’ and as ontological, spiritual, existential, magical expressions of cure and healing to grounded everyday quests for care and protection. Our research has taken us to locate these and related research themes not only in hospitals and other health care contexts but in refugee camps and in diverse public-social engagement projects. 

We also see our challenge to critically respond to the recent emergence of ‘wellbeing’ as a new ‘buzzword’ and ‘heritage value’ that operates at the level of policy-making, professional training and critical-academic research. Here the positive impacts have been the recognition of psycho-social characterisations of wellbeing – such as found in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO)  definition of ‘health’ - as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Our aim is to open up these dynamics further to acknowledge diverse cultural models of value, meaning and expression. Here too our focus is on challenging any reductionism in terms of the ‘heritagisation’ of health/ wellbeing especially in a climate that threatens to accelerate the decline of public welfare systems. We see our responsibility and ethical positionality located in critical engagements that highlight the actual experience of health/ wellbeing/ heritage and to understand how these lived experiences relate in turn not only to the making/unmaking/remaking of persons, things and of emotional/ intellectual worlds but to agendas of social justice and to contexts and experiences of extremis.

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